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Northwestern Design for America Co-Founders Get $50,000 for Healthcare Start-Up

Design for America co-founders and fellows Mert Iseri (left) and Yuri Malina and an intensive-care unit nurse show a prototype of SwipeSense.Two recent Northwestern grads have been awarded $50,000 in seed money to develop a product they created with Design for America: a portable hand-sanitizing system that could help rid doctors’ and nurses’ hands of deadly germs and provide health officials with useful data about hand-washing in hospitals.

SwipeSense is one of ten health-related startups to receive funding from Healthbox, a new healthcare division of the Chicago-based new business incubator Sandbox Industries.

As winners, Design for America co-founders and fellows Mert Iseri and Yuri Malina will receive a startup grant of $50,000, as well as business advising, legal assistance, and three months of office space in downtown Chicago, to help get their business on its feet.

SwipeSense could help solve the problem of hospital-acquired infections, which cause an estimated 90,000 deaths per year in the United States. About the size of a pager, SwipeSense affixes to health professionals’ belts and dispenses sanitizer at the swipe of their hand.

Design for America – a student group founded at Northwestern that uses design for social good – first tackled the problem of hospital infections in 2009, designing a product that would use a person’s natural impulse to its advantage.

“If you’re a 5-year-old on a playground and your hands get dirty, what’s your impulse? You wipe them on your pants,” Malina said. “What if hand-washing in a hospital setting were that easy?”

SwipeSense went through several revisions, and recently an additional component has been added: a tracking system that uses a wireless internet connection to monitor each time the wearer sanitizes his hands. Hospital officials could use the data when reporting to health officials or in case of lawsuits, the product’s creators say.

During the Healthbox “accelerator” program, the SwipeSense team will collect data about hand-washing from a local hospital, with and without use of their product. The program will culminate with an “Investor Day,” where startups will have the chance to pitch their businesses to investors.

Nine other startups from around the United States and one from Ireland won the Healthbox awards. They include The Coupon Doc, a centralized platform that allows consumers to access manufacturer discounts on medications; DermLink, a cloud-based application that makes it possible to diagnose dermatology cases remotely; and CareHubs, a social platform that helps patients and healthcare providers better connect.

“We are by far the youngest participants,” Malina said. “It was a little intimidating, but we’re super excited.”

Design for America was conceived at McCormick in 2008. Since then, the group has expanded to eight more universities nationwide.